Suspended by the NCAA right before last year’s Big 12 tournament, Perry Jones III seemed in a mood to make up for lost time.
So the 6-foot-11 Baylor sophomore made all eight of his shots in the first half Thursday and wound up with a career-best 31 points while leading the hot-shooting Bears to an 82-74 victory over Kansas State. Jones was 11 for 14 for the game.
”I guess I was just in the zone today,” said Jones, who also had 11 rebounds for his eighth double-double in a season that’s been a bit of a disappointment. ”Just being aggressive and more assertive.”
Shortly before the Bears were to board the plane for Kansas City last March, the NCAA suspended Jones because of a mortgage loan his mother had accepted two years earlier. The school vigorously contested the ruling, but it stood, and he eventually had to sit out the first five games of this season as well.
But all that was erased in the finest game of his career. The fourth-seeded Bears (26-6) took charge in the first half when Jones scored 11 straight points. He was 2 for 2 behind the 3-point arc, put down dunks and tap-ins and follow shots.
”It’s pleasing because I got my teammates to give me the ball in the right position, my teammates encouraging me to shoot shots I don’t normally take,” he said. ”And they told me to do it like I did it in practice.”
The Bears did not let Jones forget what happened last year. When he boarded the plane to come to KC this week, they all gave him a standing ovation.
”My teammates reminded me when I got on the plane,” he said with a grin. ”But I mean, other than that, it was all laughing and jokes. It wasn’t nothing serious.”
It wasn’t all laughing for the Wildcats (21-10), who had won four of five and appeared to be peaking just in time for the postseason, as they did a year ago.
”We were so bad defensively today,” said coach Frank Martin. ”Baylor was good. They’re a heck of a basketball team. I don’t want to take away from them, their moment, because they won the game. But defensively, we were so selfish today. We didn’t help each other.”
Brady Heslip had 15 points and Pierre Jackson added 13 points and eight assists for Baylor, which shot a sizzling 57 percent while debuting bright, fluorescent yellow uniforms.
”Coaches always want to win and do what you need to do to win,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. ”But Perry’s one guy I think our whole staff and team really felt good that had a great game.”
Even Martin was happy to see Perry get his vindication.
”I told Perry after the game, `Man, keep being who you are,”’ Martin said. ”Don’t give in to perception and public nonsense. Be who you are, man. He’s a beautiful kid and he represents class and he’s a very talented player.”
Jordan Henriquez, often left unattended in the middle of Baylor’s zone defense, scored a career-high 22 points for Kansas State, which had split with Baylor in the regular season.
Jones had 20 points on 8-for-8 shooting as the Bears took a 9-point halftime lead. His first miss was an attempt at a driving layup in the opening minutes of the second half. His second miss was on a shot that was blocked.
Just as the Bears were heading to the tournament last year, the NCAA suspended Jones
The closest Kansas State came in the second half was five points, when Rodney McGruder sank a pair of free throws to make it 53-48. but then A.J. Walton scored an Jackson drove in for a layup and a 57-48 lead that went to 62-50 a few minutes later when Quincy Acy stole the ball at midcourt, drove in for a layup and sank a foul shot when McGruder fouled him.
In the take-charge run in the first half, Jones canned a 3-pointer to put the Bears on top 16-15, then followed that with a tap-in and a three-point play.
Martavious Irving, in the meantime, was on a seven-point run for the Wildcats. Irving’s 3-pointer sliced Baylor’s six-point lead in half, then Jones, with a nifty feed from Jackson, connected for Baylor.
Henriquez’s three-point play pulled Kansas State even at 27-all, then Heslip drove in for a layup, drew a foul and sank the free throw and followed that with a 3-point bucket.
Jackson’s left-handed floater in the final seconds sent the Bears into halftime with their biggest lead, 45-36.
McGruder had 14 points for Kansas State and Angel Rodriguez had 12.